Late night on September 18, Bhupesh Baghel asked his personal staff to get prepared to leave for Bilaspur — about 120 km from the Chhattisgarh capital. He brushed aside suggestions that it was not safe to travel by road that was under construction.
He reached Bilaspur by midnight and went straight to the hospital where Congress workers were recuperating from injuries they suffered in a police lathicharge.
Baghel, the Chhattisgarh Congress President, rushed to the spot after the incident, which propelled party workers.
The connect with workers that Baghel enjoyed since taking charge of the party has been his biggest strength. He infused workers' confidence in the party, which suffered a severe setback after the entire state Congress leadership was wiped out in a deadly Maoist attack in Darba of Bastar district in July, 2013.
Baghel worked closely with workers and toed party lines, often putting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government headed by Raman Singh in the dock on several issues. ALSO READ: Election results LIVE: Cong ahead in Raj, MP, Chhattisgarh; market recovers
Born on August 23, 1961 in a farmer’s family, Baghel joined the Indian Youth Congress (IYC) in 1985 and held the position of President, IYC, in Durg district (Rural), from 1990 to 1994.
He was elected to the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly from Patan constituency in 1993 and retained the seat in 1998. Baghel was minister of state in Digvijay Singh’s cabinet and held the key post of public grievance department attached to the chief minister. Later, he was given the portfolio of transport in December 1999.
He was also appointed as chairman of Madhya Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation in January, 2000. After the formation of Chhattisgarh, Baghel was made the minister for revenue, public health engineering and relief work.
In the first assembly elections of Chhattisgarh in 2003, the Congress was defeated but Bhupesh retained his seat.
In 2008, he lost the election but returned to the assembly in 2013.
He was made Deputy Leader of Opposition in Chhattisgarh State Legislative Assembly from 2003 to 2008. Baghel, patron of Chhattisgarh Manva Kumri Chhatriya Samaj since 1993, represents the Kurmi community that has large representation in the state.
Baghel has been actively involved in social work, organising mass marriage ceremonies to reduce spending on marriage functions.
Baghel has had his share of controversies. On September 24, 2018 he was remanded to judicial custody for 14 days by Special Central Bureau of Investigation court after the agency filed a charge sheet against him and others in connection with a case of circulation of a ‘fake’ CD that purportedly showed a senior minister of BJP government in a compromising position in October 2017. He refused to seek bail, claiming that the government is trying to implicate him for declaring to stage a black flag demonstration on the arrival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He was sent to Raipur Central Jail, but after much persuasion, as elections were approaching, he applied for bail and was released.
Later, a CD purportedly showing him making defamatory statements about the Chhattisgarh party in-charge, P L Punia, went viral. His name was also dragged in a case for allegedly taking over a plot of land in Patan that was donated to a school. However, he fought the case legally and won.
Despite the controversies, there is no discounting Baghel’s efforts, which have helped the Congress sweep the state elections.ALSO READ: